Experts question accuracy of Kejriwal’s referendum on govt formation

  • Nivedita Khandekar and M Rajendran, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Dec 19, 2013 00:03 IST

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) calls it a novel experiment in democracy, but experts have questioned if the party’s referendum method through text messages, interactive voice response (IVR) and its website is transparent and accurate enough.

Experts from IT, cyber laws and legal fields HT spoke to raised concerns over AAP’s electronic data collection related to its poser to Delhiites through SMSs, IVR and the Internet. The AAP wants Delhiites to say if it should form a government.

The AAP won 28 seats while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 32 seats in the 70-member Delhi assembly. After BJP declined to form the government, the Congress offered to support AAP’s government. The former ruling party has eight seats.

Can it be ensured that there will be no duplication of votes either by a single respondent or in bulk? “Technically, a repeat vote can be prevented. But there are ways to manipulate using Chinese handsets that easily mask the IMEI code (unique number). Hacking can also bloat numbers either way,” said Kartik Raja, founder and CEO, Phimetrics Technologies Private Limited, a Mumbai-based independent telecom audit and services organisation.Dilip Pandey, AAP’s official in-charge, said their software recognises unique responses only, be it through SMS or IVR while the website has an IP address tracker to avoid duplicity in responses.

But experts said indirect tools were available where proxy servers can be used. The segment on the AAP website that receives ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not have adequate verification measures, said a former India Against Corruption (IAC) activist, who wished to be anonymous. “It has no check if the respondent is entering authentic data. One can enter any name and any number,” he said.

But going beyond it, Pavan Duggal, advocate, Supreme Court and president, said it was important to know if the electronic data collection was as per the IT Act and IT Rules 2011.

For instance, how can AAP ensure that they have obtained prior consent (of the person whose name appears as respondent)? Free SMSs can be sent through Internet, so, Duggal said, chances of abuse exist. The AAP website does not give this information.“The need, therefore, is for transparency in data collection and analysis through requisite procedure and practice for arriving at a conclusion,” the cyber law expert said.

Ishan Russel, managing partner, The Image People, a consultancy firm specialising in social media, raised a legal point. “More important is data interpretation. For instance, they (AAP) can consider only west Delhi data and call it as depicting whole of Delhi.”

Moreover, the sample size on the website or through SMSs do not reflect the social, economic or geographic profile nor the respondents’ age.

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